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Cablegate: Vietnam's Caged Bears: Hcmc's Small Steps at Protection

VZCZCXRO1928
PP RUEHDT RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHPB RUEHPOD
DE RUEHHM #0156/01 0510136
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P R 200136Z FEB 08
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3701
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 2485
RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVE
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RUEHC/DEPT OF INTERIOR WASHINGTON DC
RUEAEPA/HQ EPA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHINGTON DC
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 3921

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000156

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/MLS AND OES/ETC

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON SENV SOCI EAGR VM
SUBJECT: VIETNAM'S CAGED BEARS: HCMC'S SMALL STEPS AT PROTECTION
AREN'T UP TO THE CHALLENGE

REF: 2007 HANOI 1763

HO CHI MIN 00000156 001.2 OF 002


1. (U) Summary: Ho Chi Minh City is home to a number of
wild-game restaurants now coming under greater scrutiny because
they push the line between exotic and illegal. After a
concerned Amcit recently reported seven bears caged outside one
such restaurant, the Consulate followed up. While we learned
that HCMC's Forest Protection Department is working with the NGO
"Wildlife at Risk" to monitor and protect the captive bears, we
also found that the City lacks the resources (and some argue the
will) to eradicate illicit bear farms (where bears are 'tapped'
for their bile). Given its own limitations, the City has
authorized certain NGOs to register and monitor the health of
illegally held bears, which reportedly are to be released to
more humane facilities as sites are developed. Against the
backdrop of widespread lack of appreciation of, or commitment
to, the protection of wildlife in Vietnam, the City's nascent
efforts at saving the bears face an uphill struggle. End
Summary.

Caged Bears Draw Attention
--------------------------
2. (SBU) An American in HCMC, distressed at the sight of seven
bears kept in small, squalid cages outside the An Binh Quoc Minh
venison restaurant, notified the Consulate. ConGenOff contacted
the HCMC Department of Forest Protection (FPD), which directed
us to their NGO partner, the HCMC-based NGO Wildlife at Risk
(WAR) started by prominent Dragon Capital investment fund
founder Dominic Scriven. Country Director Nguyen Vu Khoi told
us WAR was well aware of the An Binh restaurant bears.

3. (U) Khoi explained that HCMC FPD's registers all illegally
held bears and collaborates with WAR to catalogue and tag (with
micro chips) approximately 500 bears in HCMC. The bears in
question had been tagged in order to monitor their well-being
until the time when they can be placed in wildlife sanctuaries.
WAR is working to expand their Cu Chi wildlife sanctuary, some
40 km from downtown HCMC, which is already filled to capacity.
The national FPD considers this monitoring program so successful
that it is working with the World Society for Protection of
Animals, a United Kingdom NGO, in extending it to other
provinces.


The Gap Between Legislation and Implementation
--------------------------------------------- -
4. (SBU) Bear bile extracted from their gall bladders and paws
remains highly prized in Vietnam as an aphrodisiac and health
tonic. Vietnam outlawed the commercial trade in bear products
in March 2005, but has not provided the resources necessary to
rehabilitate and relocate the animals caught up in the system.
Although Vietnam's strong wildlife laws criminalize virtually
every aspect of the caged bears' predicament -- capture, sale,
transport, exploitation -- insufficient resources, public
ambivalence and a lack of political will limit enforcement
(reftel).

5. (SBU) According to the NGO Animals Asia Foundation, three to
four thousand animals are caged throughout Vietnam, often in
wretched conditions. Unable to eliminate the problem outright,
the GVN is limited to monitoring animals at existing sites (like
An Binh restaurant) in order to concentrate their efforts on
preventing additional bears from entering the system.

Monitoring Helps, but Abuses Remain
-----------------------------------
6. (SBU) While regular monitoring decreases the degree of
exploitation of captive bears, Mr. Khoi concedes that scarce
resources and unequal enforcement limit the program's
effectiveness. Insufficient government oversight creates
opportunities for corruption, and some keepers of bears use
personal relationships to evade censure. For example, Khoi is
reluctant to antagonize the owners of An Binh restaurant because
they are war veterans with political clout. WAR does include
the restaurant on a blacklist of establishments that contribute
to the illegal wildlife trade that the NGO maintains on the
Internet at http: //www.wildlifeatrisk.org.

Comment
--------
7. (SBU) Increased international attention is raising the
profile of wildlife issues in Vietnam, and the private sector is
funding NGOs help to fight abuses. The FPD's willingness to
cooperate with and even delegate part of its mandate to foreign

HO CHI MIN 00000156 002.2 OF 002


wildlife NGOs is a pragmatic, albeit far from adequate attempt
to fulfill Vietnam's international commitments to protect
biodiversity with limited resources. While Vietnam's openness
to international cooperation is a step in the right direction,
we see little evidence of a genuine indigenous commitment to
protect wildlife. Without such a commitment, the future for
Vietnam's bears remains grim. We will continue to monitor the
effectiveness of this novel public-private approach, press
Vietnam to better protect wildlife and encourage GVN officials
to engage with their counterparts on this issue at the
appropriate multilateral fora. End comment.

8. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.
FAIRFAX

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